Ellyn Bache’s intricate new novel, The Activist’s Daughter, is by turns a conventional bildingsroman and an unconventional story about growing up in the shadow of Joseph McCarthy and the contemporary civil rights movement. The book follows 17-year old BeryL Rosinsky as she leaves her home in Washington, D.C., for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Set in 1963, it addresses a panoply of themes: Learning to live with people from other cultures and with different lifestyles; finding one’s own voice; and making peace with family members— including a “greenhorn” grandmother, a father whose career was cut short by House Unamerican Activities Committee, and a mother who appears more devoted to social change than to her daughter. The novel also shines a resonant spotlight on a number of historical moments including the assassination of President Kennedy, the murder of four black girls in a Birmingham church, and the development of picket lines to protest segregated restaurants and businesses. Feminist issues are also invoked as the crises and conundrums of late adolescence are explored. Engaging and lively, The Activist’s Daughter grapples with tough political and social issues and makes no bones about the need for human connection and a defined sense of human purpose. Sensitive and non-dogmatic, this is a moving and insightful novel.
Eleanor J. Bader teaches at Eugene Lang College of the New School for Social Research.